Under the Sun
Bullies come in many sizes and disguises
From sixth grade through near graduation, there was one guy universally and duly recognized as the class bully.
He was a hulking specimen who could be used in a dictionary illustration as the prototypical thug. Everybody watched out for him, especially after school when teachers weren't around to check his intimidating tendencies. But even during classes, recess and lunch periods, he'd grab girls in ways that today would be considered sexual assault, slap around smaller boys, steal food off their plates and raise his fist just for the twisted pleasure of seeing classmates flinch.
He wasn't the only bully, just the most obvious. Tormentors, then and now, came in all shapes, sizes and disguises.
She was pretty. She wore sweetness and light smiles to camouflage meanness, using manipulative skills to get the results she wanted. Most of her targets were not her match, such as the nice girl with an oral deformity that caused her to drool from time to time. Another whose artistic talents and intelligence won the favor of many teachers, and thus the bully girl's hostility, had slightly bowed legs, a condition the bully would imitate to mock her.
Jealousy was again the motivation in another instance, but the object of her aggression wasn't without defenses. The new girl, just as pretty, had an extensive wardrobe, but it was her friendliness that made her popular among her classmates.
Her family was wealthy, and most of us blue-collar teenagers were impressed when her foreign-born mother, who wore dazzling diamond bracelets -- and fur coats, despite Hawaii's heat -- came to pick her up in a big, fancy car, sometimes with a driver.
The bully girl was not to be upstaged. She began a whisper campaign about the girl's mother and soon the school was abuzz with rumors about courtesans, picture brides and -- gasp! -- hookers. I'm not sure if the new girl ever heard the detailed gossip, but I recall her crying in the school yard one day after a cohort of the bully's made a cruel remark about the origin of the sparkling sandals she was wearing.
Years later, I ran into the bully. In a long conversation about her being born again as a Christian, she recounted her role in the episode before asking me if I had found my way to the lord. She was still pretty and still a bully, pushing me hard to join her congregation. But we aren't teenagers anymore and she no longer had the power to play into juvenile insecurities.
Bullies are all about power. Some use physical strength and body dimensions to intimidate. Some use their wealth and social status. Some use political influence and associations. Some use race and ethnicity. Some use them all.
But bullies don't use reason or intellect -- the power of the mind -- to persuade. They'd rather pick at vulnerabilities, exploit fears and differences and gin up conflict. They don't respond to rational judgment either.
Bully boy's menacing reign came to an end late in our senior year. The person who came to the aid of his would-be victim was bigger, stronger and unexpectedly, a usually mellow girl who had had enough of his behavior. She became a stock broker.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org